British Millennials Strike Out On Their Own

By Neil Craven
Financial Mail on Sunday, London.

INTERNET-SAVVY students are turning their backs on corporate life with plans to set up their own firms when they graduate — and in many cases even sooner.

The latest figures show that an astonishing 52,000 have set up a company before leaving university.

And a new study indicates 15 per cent of undergraduates plan to set up their own firm on graduation.

Top of the list of reasons to go it alone are a desire to be their own boss — cited by 45 per cent of the 1,000 graduates questioned — and a belief they could make more money that way, given by 27 per cent.

Meanwhile, one in five of the students in the survey conducted by Direct Line Business Insurance said that worries over finding suitable job opportunities was a motivation.

Unemployment in the UK fell to 5.5 per cent this month, its lowest level since August 2008, while wage growth is nearing a four-year high.

But residual concerns about low pay, as well as job security and zero-hours contracts, are spurring graduates to carve out their own careers.

Many plan to follow in the footsteps of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who started their businesses at university.

Jane Guaschi, business manager at Direct Line, said: ‘These companies are inspiring the millennial generation to strike out on their own. The latest generation of graduates is clearly fiercely independent and wanting to control the destiny of their own careers, rather than answering to anyone else.’

The 52,000 undergraduates already running their own businesses are in industries ranging from marketing to IT and fashion design, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

Male undergraduates are more likely to go it alone, with a fifth planning to work for themselves, compared with 11 per cent of women, according to Direct Line. More than a quarter of those studying creative, art and design courses — 26 per cent — plan to strike out on their own. Those studying science, technology, engineering and maths are the least likely, at 12 per cent, perhaps reflecting their confidence that they will find well-paid conventional careers in those areas.

However, unions warn that many of the jobs being created in the UK involve few hours and low pay. Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, last week described the job prospects for some graduates as ‘gloomy’.

She added: ‘Despite paying huge amounts to get higher education, many are being forced to take lower-skilled jobs.’

This summer’s graduates are expected to have debts in excess of pounds sterling 30,000, as they are the first to have paid the full three years of the new pounds sterling 9,000-a-year tuition fees. A decade ago the average debt on graduation was just pounds sterling 10,400.

Some are hoping for a quick return on their investment, with one in six expecting to earn pounds sterling 100,000 a year by the time they turn 30.

But many face disappointment. Six months after graduating, one in three of the UK’s annual batch of 250,000 graduates are in jobs that do not require a degree, in areas including secretarial, sales, customer service and skilled trades.

Their average salary after six months was pounds sterling 21,500.

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